The dilemma of hypermodernity (Part Nine)
By Mark Wegierski
An earlier, academic version of this essay has appeared in This World: Religion and Public Life (Culture and Consumption) no. 31 (2000) (New Brunswick, USA and London, UK: Transaction Publishers), pp. 29-45. This is the 16th anniversary of the appearance of the academic version of the essay – which had also appeared in various, different, non-academic iterations in the 1990s, including in Polish translation. The essay had also appeared in three parts on its 15th anniversary, in Quarterly Review (UK).
It can be seen that the nations of the former Eastern bloc; the peoples of the numerous, diverse cultural regions of the planet's South; as well as China, Japan, and the so-called Newly-Industrialized Countries (NIC's) of the Pacific Rim, are evolving in certain unpredictable directions. Even Europe is arguably showing some signs of an independent "Eurostyle", something barely tangible but perceivable in the greater elegance and diversity of contemporary European thought, culture, fashion, and lifestyle (to cite one example, the affection for the countryside, or at least the preference for fine food and drink that can only be produced by unhurried, natural methods in the countryside); as well as in the view of technology as craftwork -- sophisticated European technological artefacts can be described as being carefully "crafted", rather than mass-produced. This distinctive European style -- which also certainly has its negative aspects -- is selectively interpreted as "decadence" or nihilism by some North American observers. But the West, as a whole, is defined by its American-centred corporate/media bureaucratic-oligarchic configuration, which stage-manages all "social change", and denies the hope for real change.
It might be added here that the British state is in a curious, unfortunate, "mid-Atlantic" position. There was a point in the Eighties when the standard of living in the United Kingdom apparently fell below that of East Germany -- Britain has little of the Continental "style"; but at the same time it lacks the luxurious wealth of North America. Greater London is largely a concrete blight; the old industrial centres of the midlands and the north are hardly better. More development under the "project" of Thatcherite individualism will presumably destroy what little remains of the countryside; lack of development will presumably deepen the misery of the division into "two nations". Britain has the curious residue of what are probably the worst aspects -- as opposed to some more positive, truly aristocratic elements -- of a class-system: which excuses almost any behaviour by the elite (such as that carried out by the Cambridge spies, virtually all of whom emerged unscathed); which severely punishes to the point of enpenurement a Slavic Count (Nikolai Tolstoy), who makes certain accusations against one of its members; and which virtually slots many working-class people into a perpetual underclass. One of the reasons for the proliferation of youth subcultures in Britain, and of the unquestionably trend-setting and manifestly more independent and less brazenly commercial nature of British rock (and its various subgenres), relative to its North American counterparts, is simply that white alienation in Britain is arguably more genuine, and can more genuinely be felt. (There are more real working-class youth there, as opposed to the well-off "bohos" pretentiously "slumming it" in North America.) The "Little Englanders" of the early twentieth century -- as well as J. R. R. Tolkien -- have been proven essentially correct that the gaudy edifice of British imperialism and colonialism would quickly collapse and implode upon England, leaving the nation a wreck. Ireland, for so long a despised province of the British Empire, seems now to be in better national, spiritual, and environmental shape than her long-time occupier. The cultural identifications in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (or Ulster), however much they contribute to intercommunal strife, seem so much more vivid and alive than in England, especially in its "Southern Third", the most prosperous part of the country, which is particularly supportive of Thatcherism. (A curious comment on the situation in Northern Ireland is that the cumulative murder rate there, even with all "the Troubles", is apparently much less per capita than that of Washington, D.C.) While the British (or what should really be called the English, or London-ruled) state seems moribund, the so-called Celtic fringe of Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall appears to be reviving, culturally if not economically. So the possibilities and configurations of resistance to globalization vary from country to country and from region to region.
Regarding the problems of the Third World (or South), there is a constellation of trends at work, not only the Western mass-media images which undermine traditional cultures, but also the extreme poverty, caused largely by massively burgeoning overpopulation, which drastically cheapens human life in those countries.
It seems impossible for the author to imagine that any country would consciously want to be overpopulated. While on the one hand it would seem entirely just that the West take strong steps to limit its own profligate consumption, as well as to funnel extensive, meaningful aid to the South, it also behooves the South to take extremely strong population-control measures and to understand that any large-scale aid would be contingent on the enactment of at least some significant efforts in that direction; as well as to realize that the West in general, and Europe in particular, could no longer serve as destination-points for large-scale immigration. Stabilization of population growth must be seen as one of the primary means of stabilizing the over-all situation in the South. Then, presumably, the over-all value put on human life in those countries will increase, the traditional cultures will be under less severe stress, and there will be some hope for the ultimate survival and recovery of the ravaged ecosystems and dwindling wilderness areas of the South, which include such priceless ecological treasures as the Amazon rainforest (critical to the oxygen supply and stability of weather patterns across the entire planet); the African savannah; and the forests of Northern India.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.